Boston DJ Bob Diesel has been spinning since the early years of house music, when I was merely a twinkle in my mom’s favorite pair of roller skates. After a decade of DJ residencies at New York City area roller rinks and nightclubs, Diesel moved to Boston in 1987 and brought along a love for house music. He has since sharpened his skills at clubs in New England and overseas – as far as Tokyo and the Philippines – and has helped to unite a community around house music with his fellow heads in the Boston Housemusic Coalition. Having nearly three decades of experience in Boston, I knew Diesel would have some stories to tell about the house music scene plus plenty of time-tested DJ tips.
While you read the interview below check out this week’s DJ Set of the Week: Diesel’s 14-year-old “Soulful Warrior, Peaceful Warrior” set of classics, which he tells me represents his “total life story.” You can also catch him spinning live this Saturday at the 5th Annual Arts in the Park event at Malcolm X Park in Roxbury.
How long have you been DJing?
I’ve been playing for 38 years and I started when I was 13 years old.
What inspired you to learn?
I saw DJs playing in a local park and watched them play whenever I got a chance and thought it was quite interesting to see them work.
What brought you to house music?
I was already playing Disco, R&B Classics and Philly Soul so it was a natural transition for me, but it was just a different and new sound altogether that drew me to House Music.
What artists have you looked up to in your career?
First and foremost definitely “The Chief Rocker” Frankie Crocker as an on air DJ. He played Urban Top 40 Monday through Friday and had a Latin show on Sunday, “The Sunday Salsa Show.” It was crazy, he had more Hispanic listeners for that show than the total Latin stations in New York. And, Larry Levan of the Paradise Garage in New York. He was the master of his craft; he told stories of excellence with his musical style. Not only did he control the dancefloor, he evoked moods and emotions from the crowd. I’ve seen people scream and yell out uncontrollably and actually also cry. When he played he kept over 2,000 people on the same path, the same page, and the same groove – it was like a spiritual awakening for me every time he played. I can seriously say I’ve heard other DJ’s play great tracks all night and move the crowd but they would take you on a trip and almost get you there, but Larry would take you all the way on a complete journey and get you there.
For musicians and singers I have many I enjoy from many genres, I mean all across the board from Opera to Heavy Metal, it’s just too many to list. But my favorite right now is Esperanza Spaulding, she’s an excellent singer, songwriter, and Bass player the total package she’s the truth.
What was your experience transitioning as a DJ into the Boston house music scene when you moved here from New York City?
It wasn’t too hard, my girlfriend at the time introduced me to quite a few people in the music scene and in the industry here who looked out for me. Plus I knew a few DJs from Boston in New York from going to the New Music Seminar.
How would you describe the house music community in Boston? How does it compare to other cities you have played?
The community here in Boston is relatively small in numbers but growing not at a rapid rate. The “Heads” here for the most part are open to new tracks and trends but are very critical about what they hear and they know. Boston is a unique city unlike other major cities large or small and it’s not because I live here now, it just is.
How has the Boston house scene changed during your career here?
The Boston scene is always changing, we get usually close to five hundred thousand students a year here and less than one quarter of them live here and less stay, so it’s always a turnover.
What is the Boston Housemusic Coalition? Who is involved and what do you do?
The Boston Housemusic Coalition (B.H.C) is a collective that promotes House Music primarily in Boston and worldwide, focusing on the Community, the Culture, the Love, the Music. We also produce and promote all our own parties and events as well for other groups and organizations featuring our DJs and nationally & internationally known performers. The main components for B.H.C are Dwayne Thompson (Founder), Liza Zayas (Booking/Special Events Coordinator), Savuth Suskagen (Public Relations/DJ), and Betsy Gaston (Promotions). I am the Publicist B.H.C and assist Liza with Booking and I’m a resident DJ for B.H.C.
Can you share any favorite memories DJing a party here in Boston?
I played at a 12 hour party at Mass Art that we (B.H.C) produced, and I had one wish that Timmy Allen and Maurice Wilkey play with me but at the same time. There were nine other DJs and being that we were the headliners we would surprise everybody, so we set up three pairs of turntables and three mixers to the system and played off each other simultaneously. We didn’t plan what we were going to play, it was all impromptu but it worked. Maurice started off with a heavy percussion track then I mixed in a Françios K melodic track “Moov” and Timmy came in with Loleata Holloway’s “Love Sensation” but he pulled out the bass and highs and just had the vocals. It was so hot when it was playing all together at one time, and the crowd was totally feeling it. Then shortly we formed “The Vinylmaniacs” after that.
What advice would you have for DJs looking to make a career in Boston?
1. Master your craft.
2. Network with others that are like minded.
3. Learn from others that are like minded and don’t take constructive criticism to heart.
4. Market yourself.
5. Get paid at least the average going rate of DJ’s.
6. Get paid what you asked by contract.
7. Get a Manager.
What’s your take on the evolution of house music, especially given its increasing popularity in the past few years?
House Music has been itself remixed, mislabeled and misrepresented, like saying that House Music is not EDM (Electronic Dance Music). That’s how it all started with Roland Electronic 808, 909 Drum Machines and Electronic Juno 30, 60 Keyboards. If those people that started preaching this nonsense really knew the history of EDM they would first have to start with Rock & Roll, both Diddley and Les Paul with their electric guitars. And if you want to be real about it all and fast forward to the evolution of House Music Look at Jamie Principal, DJ Pierre, Derrick May, Larry Heard – so if that’s not EDM I don’t know what to say. It’s like saying Moby was “The Father of Techno;” I don’t have anything against him, I think he’s talented and made it happen for himself and music in general, but he’s not the guy. No one gives Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra, and Giorgio Moroder credit for the genre but people will say, “Giorgio Moroder, he’s a great electro artist.” I don’t get it, it’s just distancing truth and historical facts about the genres.
Do you have any favorite tracks that you frequently go back to in your sets?
“Any Love” – Chaka Khan
“Different” – Djeff Featuring Kholi (Honeycomb Vocal Mix)
“Original Sufferhead” – Fela Kuti
“Unlimited Love” (Black Science Re-Edit) – Alan Parker
What do you think are the key ingredients for a successful party?
1. Give your guests what they came for.
If they came to your party to have an experience for all what is on the flyer you have to deliver. If not, you’re voiding a guaranteed warrantee, make your guests want to come back. It worked for Studio 54!
2. Picking the right location and venue.
It’s a must to have a good location here in Boston due to parking issues and public transportation. If you host the hottest party in Boston people will still come, but you need to have it somewhat accessible for all your guests. The venue is key to having a successful party, it has to be chosen on your vision to set off a vibe as soon as you enter the space. You may need flashing lights and decorations and sometimes not, I’ve done parties which only have just red or blue lights and the party was always well attended and hot. That’s a big part of the “Word of Mouth Factor,” besides your guests praising about the music and their experience and vibe they will also rave about the venue and how easy it is to get there.
3. Treating everyone as a guest.
You must treat everyone like a guest as if they were in your own house from the front door on – yet they are still customers, but don’t treat them like a dollar sign. If they enjoy themselves they will return with others and/or tell their friends about how nice the party was and how they were greeted and treated at your house because essentially its your house.
I am featuring your Soulful Warrior, Peaceful Warrior mix as this week’s DJ Set of the Week. Can you tell us about this mix and the tracks you included?
“Soulful Warrior, Peaceful Warrior” was made live 14 years ago and at WHAT FM Bradford College. It was supposed to be a Mix Album, the music that was chosen represents my total life story. The record company that contracted me payed me for the work but didn’t want to pay me fairly to have it on their label. So, I kept it and put it out myself and people still ask for. A fellow DJ Leo Alarcon said it’s “Full Rounded” and that I should post it on Soundcloud and I did for free download. I also have Paul Foley, a local Boston DJ, on there with a poetry piece he did at the end. He gave me one of his album CDs with his original music and I heard that track and loved it and asked him if I could put it on, and he agreed.
Tell me about the Arts in the Park event. What will be going on there?
It is an annual event that highlights the arts and culture in Boston that is relatively unknown or seldom realized. It features well-known as well as up-and-coming performers, visual artists, fashion and jewelry designers, and crafters.
I imagine your set at Arts in the Park will be different from your typical set at a club since it will be outdoors during the day. What can we expect?
It’s going to be crazy! It will be a full rounded show for the people, because these guys are highly respected and considered to be the at the top of the list here in town and I’m excited to be able to contribute to the event. DJ Dex Williams from “The Big Show” on Big City 101.3 FM here in Boston will be playing Top 40 Hip-Hop, R&B, Funk and Old School Dance Classics, Junior Roddigan legendary Boston Reggae/Dancehall DJ, resident of “Hot Thursdays” at The Dublin House, will be playing at set as well. I’ll be playing Deep n’ Soulful House Music, Garage Classics R&B Classics and Afro-Techno, so I will be playing a club set.
BOB DIESEL @ ARTS IN THE PARK. MALCOLM X PARK, DALE STREET, ROXBURY, SAT 8.16, 1-8PM/ALL AGES/FREE